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New professorship honors longtime pharmaceutical researcher

Monday, April 13, 2015

LAWRENCE — In his second-floor corner office in Simons Biosciences Research Laboratories at the University of Kansas, Professor Ron Borchardt gestures to file cabinets lining a wall. The drawers hold more than 500 scientific research papers he authored or co-authored during his 44 years of teaching biochemistry, medicinal chemistry and pharmaceutical chemistry at KU.

“Science moves quickly, and a lot of my research is not cutting-edge anymore,” Borchardt said. “But most of the people I trained are doing cutting-edge science. That’s my legacy. It’s not the papers I’ve written — it’s the people I trained.”

Many of those people — his current and former students and colleagues — have joined together to honor Borchardt by contributing more than $1.8 million to establish a pharmaceutical chemistry professorship in his name.

“I thank them not only for their generosity and support for the professorship, which will continue to allow the university to recruit outstanding people into this department, but I also thank my former students for making me look good in my life,” Borchardt said. “You don’t become as successful as I’ve been over the years if you don’t surround yourself with good people. They’re the ones who ultimately worked in the labs until late every night and generated all the data; I mentored them and helped them write their papers. I probably received more recognition than I should have because it was all a team effort. They’ve made me look awfully good for the last 44 years.”

One of his former students is KU School of Pharmacy Dean Ken Audus.

“Ron is humble and underestimates the tremendous impact of his accomplishments as a scientist and educator, and most importantly his role as a mentor for each of his students,” Audus said. “In addition to the knowledge we took away from our time studying with him, his lasting influence on all of us has been the importance of mentoring students to be the leaders who will advance research and education in the pharmaceutical sciences into the future.”

Another of Borchardt’s former students is Christian Schöneich, the Takeru Higuchi Distinguished Professor and chair of KU’s Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry.

‪“The fact that this professorship is funded by Ron’s colleagues and former students is evidence of his invaluable contributions to the school, the university and the study of pharmaceutical chemistry,” Schöneich said. “We will take great care to select someone who represents the values and work ethic for which Ron is so well-known.”

Borchardt has mentored more than 170 students at KU. Like them, he also benefited from professionals who mentored him —such as the late Ed Smissman, a Distinguished University Professor and chair of KU’s Department of Medicinal Chemistry.

“Ed was a very, very special man, and in reality, I became as close to him as I was to my own father,” Borchardt said. “He was just a wonderful man, and he was maybe the most important mentor of my entire life.”

This fall, Borchardt will take on the status of professor emeritus. His colleagues and former students are planning an October three-day event in Lawrence to honor him.

Borchardt earned a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1967 and a doctoral degree in medicinal chemistry from KU in 1970. After serving as a postdoctoral fellow at the National Institutes of Health from 1969 to 1971, he returned to KU as an assistant professor in the Department of Biochemistry in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. In 1983, he moved to the Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry to serve as its chair until 1998. He became a Solon E. Summerfield Distinguished Professor in 1981.

During his academic career, Borchardt’s research interests included drug delivery and drug design. He is particularly known for his contributions to the study of drug transport across the intestinal mucosa and the blood-brain barrier. He has received numerous awards and honors, nationally and internationally, for his teaching and research accomplishments. He is the author or co-author of more than 500 scientific publications and 460 abstracts, the editor of 10 books and the series editor of Pharmaceutical Biotechnology (14 published volumes), and Biotechnology: Pharmaceutical Aspects (nine published volumes).

The School of Pharmacy will announce the inaugural recipient of the Ronald T. Borchardt Professorship this summer.

Gifts for the professorship count toward Far Above: The Campaign for Kansas, the university’s comprehensive fundraising campaign. Far Above seeks support to educate future leaders, advance medicine, accelerate discovery and drive economic growth to seize the opportunities of the future.

The campaign is managed by KU Endowment, the independent, nonprofit organization serving as the official fundraising and fund-management organization for KU. Founded in 1891, KU Endowment was the first foundation of its kind at a U.S. public university.

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